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How the return of JuJu Smith-Schuster could affect the Steelers offense

The Steelers offense could be more dynamic in the playoffs.

Las Vegas Raiders v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The most surprising Steelers news in some time came down the pipeline Thursday. The news was how Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster returned to practice for the first time since the middle of October. Of course Smith-Schuster exited the game against the Raiders with a non-disclosed shoulder injury which required surgery, and most believed his 2021-2022 season would be shut down entirely. Low and behold, the Steelers wide out made his way back on the field just days before the Steelers playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

There is still a possibility Smith-Schuster doesn't play on Sunday night, and it’s also possible the move was just good clerical business as his 21-day return window should end just before the Super Bowl allowing him to play in the big game if the Steelers would be so fortunate.

But with comments from teammate Diontae Johnson, as well as some NFL insiders, the Steelers aren't ruling Smith-Schuster out of Sunday’s game. So what does he bring to the Steelers this late in the season? For starters he brings a physical presence the Steelers have been lacking without him. Able to push defenders for extra yardage is one of Smith-Schuster’s calling cards, and he is one of the Steelers’ best blocking receivers. The rest of the offense will receive a boost with Smith-Schuster on the field. I also imagine if he is physically able to play the Steelers would place him in the role currently being played by Ray-Ray McCloud, who has been receiving a number of targets and asked to make tough catches over the middle of the field. If we are being honest, the high volume target receiver would be much better off with a player like Smith-Schuster.

On the flip side, the Steelers rarely got the ‘Tik Tok’ star the football early on in this season and was mostly an afterthought in the offense. Smith-Schuster only complied 15 receptions, 129 yards, and no touchdowns in 5 games. By far the worst stretch of his career. It was like the Steelers just didn't want to use him, and that was coming off a 2020 season where the Steelers failed to throw him the ball anywhere besides 5 yards from the line of scrimmage.

If the Steelers are smart, and Smith-Schuster is capable, I would anticipate JuJu receiving close to 10 targets in the game most of which in those crosser type routes, but his physicality may allow the Steelers to find more success in those types of plays. But what do you think? How will the Steelers use JuJu Smith-Schuster if he is able to play on Sunday? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.